For Elodie Camprasse, part of the joy of teaching vegan cheesemaking is showing her students just how good a non-dairy cheese – even the simplest of them – can taste.
It’s perhaps not surprising that when Camprasse went vegan four years ago, what she missed most was cheese – after all, Camprasse, who now lives in Melbourne, grew up in France, a country renowned for its cheese.
“I just thought that the vegan cheese that you tend to get in supermarkets are not great. They kind of feel and taste a bit like plastic. So, I thought, surely I can do better.” She’s been learning and experimenting ever since. These days, she loves sharing the joy of making everything from sharp, salty feta to a proper melty cheese, teaching classes through Melbourne’s Laneway Learning.
“What I like about vegan cheese is that on top of being better than dairy for the planet, it also suits all levels of experience. Even people who don’t like cooking very much and don’t do it often can make yummy cheeses, with some simple easy to find ingredients. On the other hand, people that have more time, skills and patience and want a bit more of a challenge can make cultured, ash-ripened or washed rind cheeses,” she says.
If you’d love to try making your own vegan cheese, read on. We asked Camprasse and two other keen non-dairy cheesemakers – Aysa Moonen from Sydney and Robyn Longley from Perth Hills in Western Australia – for their advice on getting into the melty, sliceable, spreadable world of non-dairy cheese.
Not just for vegans
One of the joys of non-dairy cheese is that it’s so flexible – great for vegans, but also for anyone who can’t eat dairy. And since tofu, nuts, seeds and plant-based milks can all be used for cheesemaking, some recipes work for different food allergies and intolerances, too. It’s also a rewarding option for those looking to eat more simply or sustainably.
Over in Western Australia, when Short Street Kitchen offered a vegan cheese workshop in August, it sold out so quickly they added two more. “There’s obviously a growing interest,” says Robyn Longley, who along with her daughter Jess, runs Short Street Kitchen, which offers healthy cooking and lifestyle workshops at a semi-rural property in the Perth Hills.
“People generally are becoming much more aware of the origin of their food, and the impact on their health of processed food, in particular, genetically modified ingredients, pesticides and preservatives. We teach a workshop in Wholefood Pantry Staples, teaching people to make food from scratch, and making cheese from scratch seemed a logical extension of this.”
Better than bought?
If you’ve bought vegan cheese and been disappointed, Camprasse knows how you feel.
Most of the cheese she’s bought, she says “sort of looks, tastes, and feels artificial. Don't get me wrong, there's a few very good vegan cheese companies like Vegan Dairy, based on the Mornington Peninsula. That's really, really good. But it does cost more, and you can't find it at the supermarket. And what I find is, as well, I've tried cheeses from a few companies that are pretty famous for their vegan cheeses. And they don't last as long, they get mouldy pretty quickly. I'm not sure why. I've found that the cheeses that I am making it home last for much, much longer.”
“I recommend keeping it simple and start with the spreadable cheeses. So many people lose their courage because of the long list of unfamiliar ingredients. A cashew or macadamia spread cheeses and/or a vegan ricotta are a great place to start,” says Ayse Moonen, who’s been making vegan cheese for ten years. In 2016, she started teaching vegan cooking workshops at Sydney’s Cornersmith; she also occasionally teaches classes through Sydney Community College and Lyttleton Stores in the Blue Mountains. Those on Instagram might also know her as @veganprojects
“[When stating] Stay away from long complicated recipes. Although the payoff will be delicious, the effort puts the average person off …Baby steps. Once you learn the basics of cheesemaking, you can always use what you have in your pantry and adjust it to your taste buds. Do not get scared of making a mistake or two. Sometimes that is the best way to learn and hopefully master it,” she says.
Robyn Longley says she aims to teach recipes that are simple enough for participants to go home and start making cheese without needing special ingredients or equipment.
“I think a good place to start is with a simple parmesan substitute using nuts and seeds and nutritional yeast to give the cheesy flavour. A cheesy sauce suitable for lasagne or mac ‘n’ cheese is also quick and easy. There are many websites which offer these kinds of recipes so it’s just a matter of experimenting and altering recipes to suit your taste.”
A great place to start: this eggplant parmigiana with cashew cheese. It features a cashew parmesan and a melted cheese sauce. Both feature nutritional yeast, which is a vegan cheesemakers best friend. These little yellow flakes add an amazingly cheesy flavour to all sorts of food.
Something for everyone
The great thing about making your own cheese is you can make how much you want, of what you like.
“I love the process of experimenting and getting a perfect recipe, then adding to it, sometimes totally flipping it and discovering new flavours and combinations that excite the palate but also make you feel good all over,” says Moonen, who also makes and sells a marinated vegan feta and cultured butter (which comes in amazing flavours such maple & lavender or miso & yuzu!)
Camprasse, too, loves playing with her cheesemaking.
“There's pretty much three different bases to vegan cheese,” she says. “One is tofu, which I use to make feta. Another is plant-based milk, and the beauty with that is that if you either is allergic to one type, or if you don't like specific types, you can substitute the milks quite easily. So, if you don't like soy or you are allergic to soy, you can use almond milk or hazelnut milk or hemp milk or whatever you have on hand. And then the third base is nuts, or for some cheese, seeds.
“Seeds would be fine as a substitute generally speaking, except for cultured cheeses - because those cheeses age for a while, usually a few weeks, seeds aren’t suitable as they go rancid quicker than nuts.”
“I like that you can customise the flavour and sometimes the texture of the cheese depending on, for example, what nuts you use, or what plant-based milk you use, and I like that you can make however you need however much you need, so It won't go to waste. And you can make whatever shapes you want – a round cheese, a square cheese. It's pretty fun to play with a different sort of shape and texture and flavours.”
A craving for camembert?
“In all honesty, when we first went vegan, plant-based cheese was awful. It was rubbery and tasted of nothing. There’s been lots of brilliant work done by companies so we’re getting to a point where vegan cheese is genuinely very good,” says Henry Firth, one half of BOSH! (the duo who host Living on the Veg, currently screening on SBS Food).
In Living on the Veg, Firth and co-host Ian Theasby shares two kinds of dairy-free cheesy indulgence: cheese toasties and a ‘cambembosh” – a soft, melty, scoopable cheese.
“For this camembosh recipe, the lovely Ellie from Kind State of Mind dropped into our kitchen to make this INCREDIBLE plant-based camembert. It feels like something for which there is just no vegan equivalent, but trust us, this is the good stuff. Give it a go at home, you won’t be disappointed,” Firth tells SBS.
Making melty cheese
Is it possible to make a truly melty cheese? “Yes, it is! One of my favourite cheese to teach is meltable mozzarella, perfect for a pizza or a toastie. It is always a crowd-pleaser and people are shocked how easy it is to make,” says Moonen. (Keep an eye on Moonen’s Instagram to get a heads-up when new cheese classes are open for bookings.)
To get you started, try this ‘melty mozzy’ recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, one of the legends of vegan cooking. “If you’re going to bake something that requires a cheesy topping, say, manicotti, this is your simple go-to melty mozz. It cooks up creamy and delicious, with just enough nuance from a little nooch and miso but nothing overpowering,” she says of the recipe, which she also uses on her recipe for tricolore vegan pizza.
Campresse says her favourite melty cheese is one she makes inspired by a recipe in The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook.
“It melts quite well. Especially if you're doing something like a grilled sandwich - or I make mac and cheese waffles with that cheese, and it melts and browns really well.
“This melty texture comes from an ingredient that is from seaweed, like a red algae, that's called kappa carrageenan. That's the ingredient that you need to get for that very nice, melty texture. You can't find it everywhere but it's quite easy to order things like that online. Places like the Melbourne Food Depot sell it.”
Books and other resources
Ready to dive into the world of vegan cheese? Here are great places to learn more.
“There are many free recipes online for vegan cheese but if you are keen to understand the process, the following books may be helpful,” says Longley.
“My favourite book for simple unfermented cheese is One Hour Dairy Free Cheese by Claudia Lucero. For more in-depth discussions and recipes Plant Based Cheesemaking by Karen McAthy, Vegan Cheese by Jules Aron and Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Shinner.”
Campresse recommends the Non-dairy Evolution Cookbook; Shinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook; and Connie’s RAWsome Kitchen blog and YouTube channel. She also alerted us to a free e-book on The Art of Vegan Cheesemaking available from the Full of Plants blog.
Moonen also recommends the Miyoko Shinner and Karen McAthy books. Online, “Vegan Richa and Minimalist Baker always have very inspiring recipes and ideas,” she says.
And if you’re interested in taking a class, Karen McAthy also teaches a five-week online Art of Plant-based Cheesemaking course. Keep an eye on her Facebook page for new dates. Another online option is the Vegan Cheese Made Easy course offered by Veecoco.
Wherever you start, there's a whole world of options. “Give it a go! It’s easier than you think once you gain the confidence to experiment with different recipes. Find recipes online, watch YouTube videos, read books or find a class,” says Lockley.
Find Elodie Camprasse on twitter @ECamprasse and Instagram @elodie.camprasse and keep an eye out for forthcoming classes at Laneway Learning. Find out more about Short Street Kitchen workshops here. And follow Ayse Moonen on Instagram @veganprojects to find out more about her upcoming vegan cooking classes.
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